Food waste is a global issue with serious economic and environmental implications. Although a number of psychosocial and cultural factors have been identified, little attention has been paid to how food waste is culturally presented, circulated, and mediated. In this exploratory study, we consider how food waste is presented in the thriving genre of reality food television. Specifically, we conducted a content and discourse analysis of UK television programme, Ramsay’s Kitchen Nightmares
(RKN). We found that visual and discursive references to food waste are associated with business, food, and personal incompetency in RKN. Furthermore, food handling was constructed as a moral issue. In RKN, food waste is not resolved via specific educational interventions for food waste prevention, but through attention to broader personal, business, and food incompetencies, which are value-laden and morally relevant. We discuss the symbolic dimensions of the transformation of food into food waste by drawing on Mary Douglas’ ideas of matter out of place. We suggest that food waste research and behavior change could benefit from addressing personal, professional, and moral competencies which may not be directly related to food, but which may reduce food waste. Our analysis of food waste in a televised environment extends waste research in specific geographical locations and spatial contexts.
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